... [University of Virginia's David F. Feldon] and his colleagues gathered two sets of research proposals from 95 beginning graduate students in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—at three universities in the Northeast from 2007 to 2010. About half of those students taught, on average, one undergraduate course. The other half had no teaching responsibilities.
All of the graduate students submitted research proposals at the beginning of the academic year and provided revised versions at the end of the year.
Mr. Feldon's team used a rubric to rate several various aspects of the students' research skills, including the context of the proposed study, framing of the hypotheses, attention paid to the validity and reliability of study methods, experimental design, and selection and presentation of data for analysis.
The graduate students who both taught and did research scored higher on those measures, the study found. The results suggest that those students exhibited both superior methodological skills and greater improvement in those skills compared with their peers who focused on research alone.
"The findings resonate with people," Mr. Feldon said in an interview. "Of the people I've spoken to about this study, half said, 'Of course that's what you found.' The other half said, 'There's no way that can be true. Your data must be wrong.' Everyone's got an opinion on this, but there's been little data."
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate students are often encouraged to maximize their engagement with supervised research and minimize teaching obligations. However, the process of teaching students engaged in inquiry provides practice in the application of important research skills. Using a performance rubric, we compared the quality of methodological skills demonstrated in written research proposals for two groups of early career graduate students (those with both teaching and research responsibilities and those with only research responsibilities) at the beginning and end of an academic year. After statistically controlling for preexisting differences between groups, students who both taught and conducted research demonstrate significantly greater improvement in their abilities to generate testable hypotheses and design valid experiments. These results indicate that teaching experience can contribute substantially to the improvement of essential research skills.